The Great Barrier Reef’s only endemic mammal species, the Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent that lives on a tiny island in the eastern Torres Strait, is now extinct thanks to human-induced climate change.
This is the first recorded extinction of a mammal anywhere in the world thought to be primarily due to human-caused climate change.
An expert says this extinction is likely just the tip of the iceberg, with climate change exerting increasing pressures on species everywhere.
The rodent, also called the mosaic-tailed rat, was only known to live on Bramble Cay a small coral cay, just 340m long and 150m wide off the north coast of Queensland, Australia, which sits at most 3m above sea level.
It had the most isolated and restricted range of any Australian mammal, and was considered the only mammal species endemic to the Great Barrier Reef.
When its existence was first recorded by Europeans in 1845, it was seen in high density on the island, with sailors reporting they shot the “large rats” with bows and arrows. In 1978, it was estimated there were several hundred on the small island.
But the melomys were last seen in 2009, and after an extensive search for the animal in 2014, a report has recommended its status be changed from “endangered” to “extinct”.
Led by Ian Gynther from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, and in partnership with the University of Queensland, the survey laid 150 traps on the island for six nights, and involved extensive measurements of the island and its vegetation.
In their report, co-authored by Natalie Waller and Luke Leung from the University of Queensland, the researchers concluded the “root cause” of the extinction was sea-level rise. As a result of rising seas, the island was inundated on multiple occasions, they said, killing the animals and also destroying their habitat.